“Here is the weekend weather forecast. A trough of very low pressure is coming in from the West, and winds will gust up to gale Force 9 throughout the country.”
Just the sort of day for staying indoors and watching TV, you might think. But if, like David White, you are one of the world’s top windsurfers, this is ideal weather for speedboard racing.
Five times World Production Board speed champion, nine times British champion, three times world record holder, White is a legend in speedboard racing. In his quieter moments he imports windsurfing equipment via his company, Whiteboarders, based in Essex, UK, and distributes via 65 dealers throughout the UK.
Since it started in 1996, Whiteboarders has been using the Enterprise accounts package from Exchequer Software. But in late 1999, with the back office applications such as accounting and stock control running smoothly, White decided it was time to extend Enterprise into the front office to support his customer facing staff.
“I expect everyone at Whiteboarders to be able to respond to a customer query,” said White. “When a dealer rings up about an order or an invoice, anyone should able to pick up the phone and give them the answer there and then.
“It’s the same with payment issues. I prefer them to be handled by the sales people who are dealing with the customer day-to-day and know the background. I don’t want credit control to be the preserve of some separate person in accounts.”
What David wanted was a CRM solution. Most customer communication is done over the telephone and staff have to be able to answer any questions immediately while the customer is on the line. So the keynote of any effective CRM solution is simple: it is speed.
Incoming callers need to be immediately identified and routed to the right person; and once a staff member takes the call, they need to be able to access any information about this customer immediately - invoices, deliveries, orders, previous contacts, all within one or two mouse clicks.
Whiteboarders therefore had to add two major elements to the Enterprise system. First, they had to install a telephone system that could be integrated with their computer’s Windows NT network. Second, Enterprise had to be integrated with a specialist contact management package that staff could use to automatically dial out over the telephone network, record details of telephone calls and schedule meeting dates.
Exchequer put Whiteboarders in touch with Comtek, a specialist supplier of CRM systems. Comtek recommended that they use the contact management package ACT!, which is well-known for its simplicity and ease of use. By the end of 1999 integration of the three elements - telephones, Enterprise and ACT! - was complete and Whiteboarders’ new CRM application was born.
How it works in practice
An unusual feature is that every PC at Whiteboarders has two screens. The user works at his current job on the first screen, while the second displays additional information such as messages, or drill down enquiries.
When a dealer rings in, the telephone system picks up the number of the incoming call, and searches for a match in the customer file in Enterprise. Having identified the customer, it then flashes up a message on all the second screens on each PC throughout the building that there is a call from dealer X on the line. Dealer X’s usual contact will answer the call, but if anyone else wants a word, they know he’s on the line and can grab him before he hangs up.
When you answer a call, ACT! automatically displays a master screen showing the details of this customer - contact names and address, plus notes of all recent conversations. For example, on the customer we’re looking at, there’s quite a few notes about payment. This dealer is obviously a slow payer and, sure enough, clicking onto the Credit icon shows us that he owes £6,000.
Usually dealers will be ringing up to query an invoice, a delivery, a backorder, or to place a new order. This data is all held on Enterprise. One double click takes us through ACT! and into Enterprise and shows the total debt owing. A second double click lists the individual invoices outstanding, while a third can display the line by line invoice detail.
This fast drill-down facility is a key feature of Enterprise, as it makes all information held within the accounting system instantly accessible at both summary or detail level.
One useful point to note is that on a single screen PC, a series of drill down windows overlaying each other will usually end up looking pretty confusing. However, by leaving the customer master record unchanged on the first screen, and displaying the drill down screens on the second screen, Whiteboarders have avoided this problem. It all helps to make the system slick and easy to use.
Making outgoing calls
Staff also use the system to make outgoing calls. Highlight any dealer’s name and ACT! will then automatically speed dial out through the telephone system. Once you have finished the call to the dealer it is easy to record the details of the conversation, and to enter the Next Action date. When this date comes round, the customer will be included in the daily To Do list.
David White: “We don’t run a telesales operation, but we do ring our dealers pretty regularly about activities like demo days. We’ll take the van, put 25 boards in the back, and visit a lake or seaside resort. Local people come along and we’ll take them out to try windsurfing. It generates interest in the sport as a whole.”
In the longer term Whiteboarders try to build up an overall profile of each dealer. “Some of our dealers deal with other products or specialise in particular areas. We can record all the information against the dealer account and build up a profile. When we have a new product line or promotion we can quickly identify which dealers are likely to be interested and tell them about it first.”
The Enterprise/ACT!-based system has been running since December 1999 and has more than proved its worth. In particular, David White is pleased at the effect on credit control.
“When we talk to any dealer on the phone, we can check the debt situation while he’s on the line. If there’s a problem we can raise the question of payment in a lighthearted, not a pressured, manner and if he queries the amount we can drill down into Enterprise and give him chapter and verse on which invoices are outstanding.
I estimate we’ve reduced debt by about £90,000 ($127,000) without having had to force the issue. By this alone the system has already paid for itself.”